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(2002) (Goldie Hawn, Susan Sarandon) (R)

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Drama/Comedy: A free-spirited, middle-aged woman discovers that her former groupie friend is now a straight-laced mother who's tried to put her wild past behind her.
Suzette (GOLDIE HAWN) is a middle-aged bartender at an L.A. club where she's seen all sorts of rock n' roll history over the decades. When her much younger boss fires her, the former groupie sets out to find her former friend and fellow groupie, Vinnie (SUSAN SARANDON), who now lives in Phoenix.

Unfortunately, she doesn't have enough money for gas and thus agrees to give a ride to Harry (GEOFFREY RUSH), a neurotic and obsessive-compulsive writer, in exchange for him paying their way. He's also headed to Phoenix to fulfill a promise he made long ago.

Upon arriving there, Suzette sets off to find Vinnie, but instead meets her teenage daughter, Hannah (ERIKA CHRISTENSEN), a seemingly straight-laced high school senior who's having a bad reaction to some acid she's taken at the prom. Suzette drives Hannah home where she then meets Vinnie who now goes by the name Lavinia.

Now married to Raymond (ROBIN THOMAS), a successful lawyer, with another teenage daughter, Ginger (EVA AMURRI), at home, Lavinia is the complete opposite of the still free-spirited Suzette who hasn't changed much since their earlier groupie days. She doesn't want anything to do with Suzette, especially when she figures out she needs money.

Yet, Suzette's presence eventually begins to bring out Vinnie's long-since repressed youthful exuberance, and her family isn't sure what to make of her sudden change. As the two become reacquainted and Harry sets out to set things straight with his father, it's uncertain what will happen with the former "Banger Sisters."

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
It's hard for most kids of any age to imagine their parents or grandparents as young, vivacious people, particularly of the wild-side variety. After all, they're supposed to be the restrictive and restrained type whose job it is to tell us what not to do, especially since they'd never do whatever that is themselves. Yet, many of them got so "wise" and/or protective due to having walked in those shoes and learned from various life experiences back in their early days.

Of course, most of our parents weren't groupies in the '60s like Suzette and Vinnie who reportedly partied and more with the likes of Jim Morrison, Frank Zappa and others. Imagine, then, if you found out that your prim, proper and exceedingly square mother had actually done just that in her past.

That could have been a fun central premise of a movie, but writer/director Bob Dolman - who makes his directorial debut after penning "Far and Away" and "Willow" -- only uses that as a side note of the main plot in his intended culture clash bash, "The Banger Sisters." A comedy where two such women parted ways - not to mention ideologies and basic behavior - and then met again decades later, the film is rife with comedic and dramatic material.

Yet, it never manages to be the insightful or hilarious comedy that it wants to be and thinks it is. A great deal of that's due to the filmmaker taking both the easy and safe way out of what could have been some intriguing, explosive and rather funny material.

It doesn't take a film degree or much more than common sense to realize that the repressed "sister" will loosen up, remember and return, at least in part, to her more carefree ways. Similarly, it will surprise no one that the wild one will obviously become a bit more grounded, or that the two will become fast friends again, albeit after the requisite sparks.

As the two women, Goldie Hawn ("Town & Country," "The Out-of-Towners") and Susan Sarandon ("Igby Goes Down," "Moonlight Mile") are perfectly cast and do an okay job, although they're obviously limited by the predictable character arcs, which is particularly true for Sarandon.

The fun/interesting connection for Hawn is that her real-life daughter, actress Kate Hudson, also played a groupie - albeit a younger version - in "Almost Famous." As such, it's almost as if Hawn is playing Penny Lane decades later. A disappointing element, though, is that we don't get to see these two women back in their prime, a point that would have helped emphasize their drastic growing apart and our desire to see them become friends once again.

Another interesting mother/daughter connection is with Sarandon's real-life daughter, Eva Amurri ("Anywhere But Here," "Dead Man Walking"), playing the same in the film. She's more there for laughs - however forced and unsuccessful they might be - compared with Erika Christensen ("Swimfan," "Traffic") who gets the meatier part playing the daughter who's secretly but unknowingly following in her mother's hidden footsteps. Her character provides more connective thematic material, but the script doesn't go far enough in making that connection as funny, interesting or unpredictable as it might have been.

Another problem with the film is the subplot featuring Geoffrey Rush ("The Tailor of Panama," "Quills") as an obsessive-compulsive writer who ends up somewhat in the middle of the culture clash. While Rush's character supplies the film's funnier moments, the material doesn't feel congruous with the rest of the film.

That is, beyond the thematic element involving loosening up and/or dealing with one's past. Even that, however, doesn't make it fit in any better. Accordingly, that part of the film feels a bit too forced rather than coming off as a natural or needed element.

Other problems include some developments that are a bit too coincidental to be believable - particularly related to Hawn's character meeting Christensen's in a hotel - as well as some dialogue that's a bit too contrived and/or forced. While the film has its moments, the overall cumulative effect isn't as fun, insightful or entertaining as I hoped it might be. Instead, it comes off as too predictable, unimaginative and less than noteworthy. "The Banger Sisters" rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed August 23, 2002 / Posted September 20, 2002

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